Tuna gathered from around the world are carried to the storefronts of intermediate wholesalers on traditional carts after being bought by the wholesalers in auctions.
Even though (the Tsukiji market) is our neighbor, we don't know well its inner workings. That became the catalyst for us to start taking a fresh look at it.
The market and The Asahi Shimbun Tokyo head office are located directly across from each other. Depending on the direction of the wind, the scent of the sea fills the area. The “ogi” (fan)-shaped structure of the market can be seen well from the cafeteria on the eighth floor of the newspaper's Tokyo head office.
The market is packed with trucks from throughout the country around midnight. When people say, “I want to go see the newspaper company in Tsukiji,” most of them are thinking, “After visiting it, I want to eat delicious fish (around the market).”
Sightseeing buses to the Tsukiji Outer Market are full of men and women of all ages. Many foreign tourists are fascinated with the tuna auctions and want to attend one. Behind those scenes exists the “washoku” (Japanese cuisine) boom spreading around the world. However, this popularity alone cannot explain why this “town” (Tsukiji market), which has a long history, has so much power to attract people.
The market was opened in 1935 with the relocations of the fish market in Nihonbashi and the vegetable market in Kyobashi to Tsukiji. This year marks its 80th anniversary.
Its duties as a central wholesale market are to gather fish and other products before the start of the day, sort them so that they are available to buyers and sell them quickly. It sometimes accepts requests as well. Through this daily process, the market has serviced the large appetite of the people in the capital.
Dawn breaks in the Tsukiji market
A large quantity of vegetables comes in and an auction starts up. February 19, 1968
Fresh food products differ from manufacturing products. Even when fields are parched by drought in summer and when the seas are stormy in winter and it is impossible to go fishing, the wholesale market is not allowed to become devoid of products.
Meanwhile, it also creates difficulty when there are excesses of fish and other products due to large catches and bountiful harvests, which people should be pleased with. The market is a place where people encounter goods and exchange information. I hear that people working in the market are surprised at and perplexed by the complex world.
When we say Tsukiji, there is an abundance of glowing words, such as “best” or “world’s No. 1.” However, I was told that what is really great is the “diversity in which even one horse mackerel can be bought from those of various quality and at reasonable prices.”
In the case of fish caught in natural waters, their quality differs depending on when, in what seas and in what fishing methods they were caught and how they were transported.
What makes Japanese fish delicious is the total power of their natural blessings and the people involved with them. The eyes of professionals possess the ability to tell minute differences in them.
Tsukiji is a gathering of people who earn money through the expertise they possess. Thanks to these experts, not only high-grade restaurants, but also conventional “izakaya” pubs, can obtain better or the best products for them.
The atmosphere on the sales floors of vegetables and fruits is a little calmer. Chefs chat about cooking in front of displays of colorful vegetables.
The day’s jobs finish and lights begin to go out in the market
Many years have passed since people asking, “What do you recommend today?” at fish shops became a rare sight. For people who do their daily shopping in nearby supermarkets, the scenes of various fish lined up in rows at Tsukiji for prospective buyers may be distant scenery. Though Japan is said to be a nation of fish-eating people, data show that they are eating less fish these days. What is the reason?
Seeing Tsukiji may lead to understanding the relationship between the Japanese fishing industry or the world's marine resources and the dinner table.
We plan to post on these Tsukiji pages various information about fish of the four seasons that arrive from the long Japanese archipelago and from around the world. Please start reading the pages from your favorite ones. (Mitsuko Nagasawa)
Sumidagawa river and Tsukiji-ohashi bridge as viewed from the Tsukiji market